The world’s longest river, flowing some 4,100 miles out into the Mediterranean Sea is the Nile in Egypt. It being Egypt’s life blood, according to the ancient Egyptians.
The River Nile flowed from two separate sources: the White Nile from equatorial Africa and the Blue Nile from the Abyssinian highlands. The Nile played its part in the creation of Egypt, a process which started around five million years ago, when the river flowed into Egypt.
The desert would make its own geographical frontiers, Nile dwellers benefited, providing safety and isolation to develop their own approach to life.
In the beginning were the pre-dynastic times, when Neolithic hunter-gatherers settled on the banks of the Nile. On an annual basis rich black silt was washed up, which was used to fertilise their crops.
“Khemet” the Black Land, became its name, with “Dehsret” the Red Land surrounded them.
The Egyptian civilization began around 6,000 BC when settlements started appearing on the banks of the River Nile.
Neolithic hunter-gatherers settled along the banks of the River Nile as the Sahara dried out, bringing with it, rich black alluvial silt, which was used to fertilise the fields. Silt gave name to their country “Khemet” the Black Land and it was surrounded by the aridity of the Red Land “Dehsret.”
From independent beginnings they organised themselves, firstly we had villages, then communities, then small provinces and by 3500 BC two large kingdoms had emerged; The Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt.
UPPER EGYPT: The White Land with its capital city Nehken (Hieraconpolis) near Edfu. The kingdom’s deities were the hawk-headed Horus and the vulture goddess Nehkbet, and the king wore a tall white crown.
LOWER EGYPT: The Red Land with its capital City Pe (Buto). Here the king wore a red crown, and the cobra-goddess Edjo was worshipped, along with the composite animal god of Set.
Around 3100 BC these two kingdoms were united. The Double Crown equalled the two kingdoms, consisting of the red and white crowns with two protective goddesses.
The Nile Delta became the meeting point for trade, immigration and technology from the continents of Asia, Africa and Europe. Whilst the former lands of Lower Egypt had little contact with the outside world, retaining its original culture and traditions.
Narmer, also known as Menes united the two lands. Horus of Behdet, national god of Upper Egypt, triumphed over Set of Ombus, his rival in the Delta becoming the God of the two lands.
Narmer went on to establish a new capital at Memphis and inaugurated the First Dynasty (3050-2890 BC). This period of Egyptian history saw the Pharaoh as absolute ruler of his people, a god himself as head of state, and the early embodiment of Horus.
From the beginning of time, Egyptians were a religious and superstitious race, and the supernatural side was interwoven with the real, in most aspects of everyday life. State deities became incorporated with governmental structure, and the agricultural population coped with everyday hazards of life, through magic, charms and folklore. They would appeal to their gods, associated with each hazard, to intercede on their behalf, such as the Nile, sowing, harvests, childbirth just to name a few.
As villages grew in size to become towns then cities, so their gods grew in stature likewise, reflecting the growth of their country.
Other features of these early dynasties, was their obsession with the correct procedure for attaining life after death. The King’s the Pharaoh’s of these dynasties were responsible for the construction of stepped tombs at Neqada, Abydos, Saqqara and Helouam. Along with the legendary Imhoteps stepped pyramid, the earliest known stone building of its size.
The year 2575 BC ushered in the 4th Dynasty and with it the golden age of pyramids of the Old Kingdom. As art and architecture made major advances in their fields of development.
Egyptians believed that only the Pharaoh’s could receive everlasting life, and his subject’s contribution would be in his service whilst alive in this world, and his journey to the next world. Thus construction of royal pyramids became the focus for their society.
Come the 6th Dynasty the Old Kingdom was crumbling before their eyes, by the limitations they themselves had set. Too many resources were used, on the construction of Pyramids; these huge pharaonic funeral structures.
Priesthoods and governors became wealthy and powerful in a very short time at the expense of their pharaohs, until the country collapsed, returning to its provincial beginnings.
The First Intermediate period of Egyptian history witnessed the splintering of the Two Lands as foreigners entered the Nile Delta. A time when there was a high turnover of Pharaohs as the country fell apart.
This was a time when religious beliefs and customs were taking place.
Osiris rose to prominence at a time when the god-king had become discredited, and its people sought personal eternity.
9th and 10th Dynasties witnessed a Hierakliopolitan resurgence, which was overwhelmed by the Theban line, who made it their purpose, to reunite the country, leading to the Middle Kingdom.
Montu, the Theban God of War became a dominant force, before succumbing to the likes of the 12th Dynasty; Amun. A period of expansion, immigration and trade came into being. Campaigns took place, calling for important gold routes to remain open, and more contact with outsiders as they entered the Delta. The country entered a state of reorganisation, and the ancient irrigation system was repaired to its former glory.
The 12th Dynasty pharaohs attempted to reduce local nobility power, establishing dominance of Thebes. Amun, the main pharaonic god, accepted the fact that the people supported other cults too: Ptah at Memphis, Hathor at Dendera, Min at Coptos, Re-Atum at Heliopolis, Sobek in the Faiyum and Osiris at Abydos. An increased democratisation of the After Life existed, possibly the result of increased appeal of Osiris.
At death, one would be judged in the presence of Osiris by fourty-two Assessor Gods. One’s heart was placed on scales, opposite at Ma’at’s feather of truth and justice. Passing the test, guaranteed one, eternal life with Osiris.
The Second Intermediate period came about through weal rulers. Dynasties competed against each other, leading to confusion and opening the gates, letting in to the Delta, the Hyksos from the Middle East. Their leaders were appointed Pharaohs, adopting local gods and traditions. Their main Royal God was Set.
17th Dynasty at Thebes, led to rebellion and expelling of foreigners, as the stage was set for the Ancient Egyptian civilization and the “New Kingdom 1570-1085 BC. Egypt’s isolation was no more, they had become part of the Ancient Mediterranean World. Trade played a major part in establishing borders of Egyptian control.
18th Dynasty Pharaohs expanded their country, building an empire, conquering Palestine and the Euphrates in Syria, securing the Delta to the east and west with fortifications. They expanded southwards securing control of Nubian gold mines. Egypt was proving they be a mighty power coming face to face with competition from Libyans, Hittites, Sea People and other tribes.
Egypt, an empire of 2,000 years of history, had become the world’s wealthiest country. Her capital was Thebes, and the air-god “Amun” combined with the sun-god “Amun-Re.” Magnificent temple complexes at Karnak were considered to be the most powerful religious and political centre in the empire. Through time the priesthood had the influence to control Egypt’s royal line of succession, turning it into an ecclesiastical state.
Tombs of Egypt’s pharaohs were hidden in pyramids in the “Valley of the Kings,” cut into rock, but not free from damage. They were robbed of high end artefacts and desecrated. Their descendants, their followers were buried close by in their own necropolis (cemetery).
18th and 19th Dynasties experienced much construction across the land. Some pharaohs with much wealth to their name ordered the construction of monuments and buildings, many of which would bear their name. Successful pharaohs gave large amounts of their wealth to Amun-Re. As his priesthood became rich and influential, these Pharaohs regretted their actions and sought to bring it to an end.
By the 20th Dynasty much land had passed to the temples, mostly to Amun at Karnak, giving them almost complete control of Upper Egypt. Priesthood became hereditary and independent of the Pharaoh, which led to the creation of their own Dynasty. Conspiracies and jostling for positions took place with the royal line, which saw the royal line weaken, and dissatisfaction and unrest spread across the land.
Finally it came to pass, the throne fell to a high-priest, and Lower Egypt defected and Nubia broke away. Come the 21st Dynasty, it was ruled from Tanis in the Nile Delta, with only the odd acknowledgement from Thebes.
22nd Dynasty rule came from Bubastis in the Delta, and prosperity was healthy in the beginning, but went into decline during the 24th and 25th Dynasties. Both Pharaoh and priesthood suffered badly at this time, and the cause could have been that the Pharoahs of Amun at Thebe were able to marry off their daughters to Amun. These daughters became divine wives, and not permitted to marry any mere mortal.
At the start of the 25th Dynasty all the signs were there for a prosperous period, but their hopes were dashed, by the by the newly-emergent Assyrian power which was expanding eastwards. The Assyrians captured Memphis in 671 BC driving the Pharaoh south and by 650 BC the Assyrians were in control.
26th Dynasty Pharaohs cast aside Assyrian domination which had commenced in 668 BC. Over the next three centuries, Greek mercenaries were used in military campaigns. So much so, that the Egyptian authorities gave the city of Naucratis to these Greek mercenaries.
Assyrian power waned, Babylonian’s and Medes stepped in to fill the vacuum as Egypt made an alliance with Palestinian states to balance the latest threat. In 539 BC Babylon was overthrown by the Persians who conquered Babylon and invaded Egypt. After the siege and fall of Memphis around 520 BC, the pharaoh was put to death and Egypt became a Satrapy (Provincial Governor or Subordinate Ruler) of the Persian Empire.
Egypt under the protection and rule of Persia, appeared very one sided, for these Persians took from the Egyptians and returned nothing. Egyptians found it hard to swallow the rule of these Persian’s and had no alternative but to seek assistance from Greece, in the form of mercenaries. However, the city-state of Athens who supplied military aid, had a peace treaty with Persia since 449 BC, thus peace and freedom was short lived, which lasted till 343 BC, until the Persians imposed their rule once again. They retained power until 332 BC, when Alexander the Great swept their empire away.
Alexander the Great, captured Egypt without blood being spilt, and was seen as its saviour by the people. His intention was to bind Egypt with his own Empire, but he died in 323 BC before it could be put into action.
With Alexander’s death, Egypt fell to his General; Ptolemy, who founded a dynasty which would last 250 years. Ptolemic Pharaohs took on Egyptian traditions of royal brother and sister marriages.
Restoration and construction of temples in the old ways, and the creation of the hybrid Greco-Egyptian God: Serapis a combination of elements of Osiris, Zeus, Helios and Aesculapius.
Under Ptolemic Pharaohs rule, Greeks spread out across the country from Alexandria and Naucratis, colonising fertile Faiyum, an oasis containing a lake fed by Bahr Yusef, a branch of the Nile, that comes from the main river to the west.
With the abolition of the Old Egyptian aristocracy, it paved the way for the creation of Greek nobility.
Cleopatra, Queen of the East attempted to protect her country; Egypt from Roman domination… Roman rule. First she became the mistress of Julius Caesar and after his death Marc Antony. She and Marc Antony tried to take on the might of Rome, and failed, which led to her suicide.
Romans accepted and adopted the titles of Pharaoh and Divine Son, for it gave them the legitimacy they desired to rule. Romans succumbed to Christianity in 311 BC, when Constantine the first Christian Emperor issued the “Edit of Tolerance,” which stated Christianity was the state religion across the country. Pagans and heretics of the old order were persecuted, the old gods and temples attacked, the old faiths destroyed.
It took until AD 540 to eradicate the old religions…